What is the right way to floss?

It is important to floss your teeth once a day. The correct way to floss is as follows:
  • Use 18 inches of floss.
  • Hold the floss between your thumb and index finger.
  • Slide the floss between your teeth.
  • Move the floss up and down.
  • Curve the floss around your teeth.
  • Dip the floss beneath the gum line.
  • Don’t force the floss.
  • Use clean sections of floss between your teeth.
  • Rinse your mouth with mouthwash or water after flossing.
Carefully and thoroughly is the short answer.

Usually 18 inches of floss is used in the procedure. This allows for adequate wrapping of the floss around the middle finger on each hand. You will then leave about 1 inch unwrapped for the cleaning process. In the way you can proper control the floss for plaque removal, and you will be able to move to a clean section of floss as your progress around your mouth.

You use your thumb and forefinger to guide the floss between the teeth, carefully curving the floss around the tooth in a C shape at the level of the gum. The floss is then gently and carefully moved up and down.

Some areas may be more challenging to reach than others. Flossing is a skill that must be learned and habit that must be developed. After you have mastered the "art" of flossing, often you may notice that your teeth and mouth just do not feel clean if you skip a day.

It is important to floss between all the teeth, not just those that are in the front or easy to reach. If you are having difficulty, ask your dental professional for instruction and help. If necessary other methods of interproximal cleaning (between the teeth) may be suggested.
Jonathan B. Levine, DMD
Flossing incorrectly can do more harm than good. Make sure you’re doing it right.

  • Rip off about 18 inches of the floss and wrap it around your pointer or middle finger. Wind the remaining floss around the same finger of the opposite hand, so you've got about seven inches between each hand.
  • Pick a spot to start and make that your designated starting place, so you'll get into the routine of it all. Most people pick the space between their two centrals or the molar farthest in the back.
  • Direct it up between the teeth, and once it's in place, hold it taut. Use a sawing motion as you glide it between the teeth.
  • Next, you need to get the floss under the soft tissue, so move it under there in a "C" shaped fashion, gliding it back and forth. This will remove the plaque from those critical spaces between the teeth without doing any damage to that sometimes-sensitive soft tissue. If you hold it instead in a vertical “U” position and pull it up into the soft tissue you can actually do damage.
  • Should your floss get stuck, don't tug on it to get it out. Just slide it out toward you from between the teeth, then reposition it and try again. Repeat the same process with each of your teeth.
Smile!: The Ultimate Guide to Achieving Smile Beauty

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Smile!: The Ultimate Guide to Achieving Smile Beauty

Renowned dentist and creator of the GoSMILE product line Dr. Levine offers this complete guide to getting a whiter, brighter smile. 15 photos & illustrations.
Todd A. Welch, DMD

Proper Flossing

Flossing is an essential part of the tooth-cleaning process because it removes plaque from between teeth and at the gumline, where periodontal disease often begins.

If you find using floss awkward or difficult, ask your dental hygienist about the variety of dental floss holders or interdental cleaning devices that are available.

Wind 18" of floss around middle fingers of each hand. Pinch floss between thumbs and index fingers, leaving a 1"- 2" length in between. Use thumbs to direct floss between upper teeth. Keep a 1" - 2" length of floss taut between fingers. Use index fingers to guide floss between contacts of the lower teeth. Gently guide floss between the teeth by using a zig-zag motion. DO NOT SNAP FLOSS BETWEEN YOUR TEETH. Contour floss around the side of the tooth. Slide floss up and down against the tooth surface and under the gumline. Floss each tooth thoroughly with a clean section of floss.

Flossing once daily is important to maintaining good overall oral health and will remove decay-causing plaque from between the teeth that toothbrush bristles cannot reach. Here are some tips for flossing correctly:

  • Break off about 18 inches of floss and wind most of it around one of your middle fingers. Wind the remaining floss around the same finger of the opposite hand. This finger will take up the floss as it becomes dirty. Hold the floss tightly between your thumbs and forefingers.
  • Guide the floss between your teeth using a gentle rubbing motion. Never snap the floss into the gums.
  • When the floss reaches the gum line, curve it into a C shape against one tooth. Gently slide it into the space between the gum and the tooth.
  • Hold the floss tightly against the tooth. Gently rub the side of the tooth, moving the floss away from the gum with up and down motions.
  • Repeat this method on the rest of your teeth.
  • Don't forget the back side of your last tooth.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
You can't just floss. You need to floss the right way. So here's the right way: the floss should barely pass between each tooth and should gently touch the gums. If your floss breaks, try the thicker or waxed stuff, or the floss made with Gore-Tex material. You can also ask your dentist to file down the "contact points" between your teeth so you can floss more easily.

The wrong way: You can't get into certain openings, so you jam it in between, forcing it into spaces, which then causes gum bleeding and your sink to look like a bowl full of steak juice. Ick.
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Most people think that beauty revolves around such things as lipstick, sweet eyes, or skinny jeans -- all those things that we can see (and obsess over) in the mirror. But the fact is that beauty...
You have to floss correctly if you want to effectively prevent tooth decay and gum disease. There are several different types of floss, but it doesn’t matter which one you use -- they are all effective if you use them properly. You may find that unwaxed floss is easier to get into tight spaces. Begin by taking a long piece of floss and winding it around your middle fingers several times. You should have an inch or two left between your fingers when you’re done. Simply use your thumbs to guide the floss between your upper teeth and your pointer fingers to guide it through your lower teeth. Move the floss back and forth between your teeth, up and down their surface and very gently under your gum line. The more you curve the floss around each tooth, the more effective it will be. Also be sure to use a clean section of floss for each tooth.
It is best to use unwaxed floss as it cleans better and does not leave a film of wax on your tooth. First pull out 2-3 feet of floss. Roll the floss around one of your index fingers and unwind the floss as you go from tooth to tooth. Keep about 6 inches of floss between your hands, and use your index fingers and thumbs to hold about an inch of floss between your fingers. As you go between the teeth make a circular shape and follow the tooth under the gum. For each space that you go between, you will need to floss under the tooth in front as well and the tooth in back. Flossing is the only way to clean between your teeth. Your dentist and dental hygienist can help you with flossing techniques.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.